Monday, July 20, 2009

Rock The Bells/Paid Dues 2009

On July 19th 2009 The Rock The Bells/Paid Dues tour came to New York’s Jones Beach and completely delivered on the promise of an all day affair of unmitigated Hip-Hop abuse. The Nikon Amphitheatre at Jones Beach is a sight to behold, the state-of-the-art stage is situated right in front of a bay with beachgoers on one side and recreational boats on the other and from the upper tiers concert goers have a clear view of the stage, the bay and the ocean. The Paid Dues stage (where underground acts perform) was set up in the parking lot and had ample room for backpackers to hang out as well as a tremendous sound system. Considering the amazing line-up, sick surprise guests, great venue, beautiful whether, a set-list that was more or less on time (by Hip Hop standards anyway) and free parking and it was definitely a highlight of summer 2009 for any Hip-Hop head.

Here are some of the highlights:

House of Pain/La Coka Nostra
All three members of House of Pain hit the stage with underground heroes Ill Bill and Slaine as the new supergroup La Coka Nostra (think Slaughterhouse for angry white people). The high energy performance included cuts from the new “A Brand You Can Trust” album (review coming soon), House of Pain classics like “Jump Around,” “Shamrocks & Shenanigans” and “Who’s The Man,” a few Non-Phixon/Ill Bill songs and appearances by Just Ice and Sick Jacken from PsychoRealm. LCN have a sick stage presence, which is probably the result of all members being vets and rocking stages of various sizes for close to 20 years, but the overall impact of the performance was somewhat hindered because they performed at 3:00 in the afternoon, in full day light, to a venue that was about 90% empty, but the thousand or so fans in the arena were more than appreciative of the effort and La Coka Nostra got the crowd amped for the rest of the show.

Common hit the stage about an hour after HOP/LCN (this was the only scheduling mishap on the main stage and probably worked in Common’s favor as the venue had begun to fill-up and the crowd could ready itself for Common’s brand of introspective/positive Hip-Hop after LCN’s hooligan antics). Common’s set was solid from beginning to end, and despite being dressed as if (and at times acting like) he was actively participating in an early 90’s jazzercise class he touched on all of his classics, performed a few newer selections and did a sick medley of Hip-Hop classics by other artists interspersed with verses from “I Used To Love H.E.R.” and “Love of My Life.” As icing on the cake, Common brought out Talib Kweli for a few collaborations and presented Hip-Hop pioneer Busy Bee to the crowd as a history lesson on the origins of some of the phrases modern fans may take for granted. Common’s set proved he has the stage charisma and catalog of hits to hang with some of the best to ever do it.

“Special Guest” ….Wu Tang Clan!
This portion of the show started with just Raekwon on stage and progressed like a snowball rolling downhill and getting progressively larger, as by the en d of the performance about ¾ of the clan was on stage, Havoc and ODB’s son made appearances and Method Man stage dove and squashed the beef with Joe Budden (kind of). Rae performed a few new cuts from OB4CL 2 and then Havoc from Mobb Deep came out for “Shook Ones Pt. 2” and “Eye For an Eye,” while this was cool, it was obvious Prodigy was missing as he was probably too busy working in the prison cafeteria or getting gang raped to get work-release for the afternoon. Following the re-union of the mid-90’s Loud Records roster, the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan joined Rae on stage for a set consisting of mainly “36 Chambers” cuts as the crowd went insane for classics like “CREAM,” “Wu-Tang Ain’t Nothin ‘ Eff With” and “Method Man.”

The only shortcomings of this otherwise BANANAS set was the absence of Ghost Face Killah and Cappadona (I’ve been trying to hear him dumb-out on “Winter Warz” live for close to 15 years) and Meth closing the show with a profanity laced tirade about how Wu doesn’t have beef with anybody (read: Joe Budden and Slaughterhouse) but nobody can ‘eff with their legacy. This speech was way better suited for The Tunnel at 2am than an all-ages show, at a state park with families enjoying a day at the beach 50 yards away from the speakers. Other than that, this was an awesome surprise and any 90’s Hip-Hop fan should have been more than satisfied.

Even after 15 years in the game and tons of underground bangers these guys were relegated to the Paid Dues stage, but completely annihilated the thousand or so fans that packed the standing room only area of the venue. M.O.P.’s string of hits rocked the crowd of diehard fans that seemed to know every word to classics like “Cold As Ice,” “How About Some Hardcore” and “4 Alarm Blaze.” The show reached a fever pitch when they introduced DJ Premier and Just Ice and then launched into their biggest single “Ante Up” only to stop the track, bring Freddie Foxxx onstage to recite his “How To Rob” verse a capella and then start “Ante Up” again to a crowd that was completely losing its’ collective mind. While cramming this many people into a confined area and then blaring an anthem of armed robbery (out of the loudest Public Address system I have ever been exposed to) may seem like a questionable idea, I was completely at ease with the crowd as everyone from hippie-looking-chicks to guys rocking boat shoes and braided leather belts joined in on chants of “Gun Butt That Fool!” and “Kidnap That Fool!” While I have been a fan of M.O.P. since the early 90’s I had no idea their fan base was so diverse and such a wide array of people gravitated toward this kind of hardcore Hip-Hop.

As M.O.P. left the stage the crowd was noticeably amped for more NYC Hardcore and began chanting “Slaughterhouse, Slaughterhouse” only to be disappointed to hear Sage Francis was coming to the stage next as hundreds of fans left the Paid Dues area to use the bathroom or get food (myself included). Following the Mash Out Posse with a backpacker like Francis may have been poor planning or an attempt to not let the crowd work itself into too much of a frenzy, either way, it significantly slowed down the momentum of the afternoon, but provided an opportunity for fan’s to get their minds right for even more Hip-Hop abuse.

Hip-Hop’s most hyped up Supergroup hit the Paid Dues stage to probably the biggest crowd the “minor league” area saw all day. The four MC’s performed several of their well-known mixtape/internet collaborations, repped their respective cities by performing classics from their region, Joe Budden and Royce 5’9” performed hits from their pre-Slaughterhouse careers, each MC “freestyled” an accapella verse and the set concluded with the new single “The One.” One of the most anticipated performances of the day was somewhat short (due to “time issues” according to Joe Budden) but definitely let fans know that these guys can bring it to the stage as well as the studio and stoked anticipation for their upcoming debut album due next month.

Following “The One,” legendary “gangsta rapper” and esteemed actor Ice-T took the stage to admonish the current state of Hip-Hop, new rappers and the internet, and while this could have easily turned into him sounding angry because the game passed him by, he absolutely murdered the verse and made many people rushing back to the main stage stop in their tracks to listen.

After Ice-T left the stage, Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg took the mic to introduce Slum Village as the crowd performed a mass exodus back to the main stage. I am unsure if the northeast crowd was unaware of Slum Village, uninterested because J. Dilla (R.I.P.) would not be performing or big Charles Hamilton supporters, but 90% of Slaughterhouse’s fans wanted nothing to do with this.

Nas & Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley
The headliners for the night were introduced by the legendary KRS-ONE, who delivered and inspirational speech about the power of Hip-Hop, work ethic and spirituality before the “Distant Relatives” graced the stage. Nas came out alone and performed a medley of hits ranging from “Illmatic” to “Hip Hop Is Dead” before being joined onstage by Marley for a few collaborative efforts. Nas left the stage to “roll some weed” while Damien Marley performed several of his songs and few classics from his father’s legendary catalog. Following Marley’s solo portion Nas hit the stage again with AZ for a few classics and after working the crowd into a frenzy with the beat from “Made You Look” brought Jadakiss onstage to perform his memorable verse from the remix. By the end of the song, Nas had left the stage and Styles P and Sheek had joined Jada for a 30 min. Lox/D-Block concert that completely rocked the surprised crowd. The show was closed by Nas and Marley performing “Road to Zion” and a few songs from “Distant Relatives” before sending the crowd home happy.

Rock The Bells/Paid Dues 2009 was an insane day for Hip-Hop fans that got way more than their money’s worth and saw the architects of the game in the birthplace of the music. There were so many good acts between the two stages that I didn’t even get to see The Roots, Big Boi, Tech Nine, Necro, Buckshot or K’Naan and it was still a sick show. This event was so good, I am actually unable to make fun of it (except for Prodigy, I’ll always find a way to laugh at that guy).

Good: Line Up, Special Guests, Venue, Weather, free parking.
Bad: Sequence of Acts, insufficient merchandise (most cool T-Shirts were sold out early), traffic

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